Tuesday, November 22, 2011

Monsanto Partners With USAID to Push GM Corn in Nepal

Monsanto partners with USAID to push GM corn in Nepal

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The southeast Asian country of Nepal is once again having to fight against foreign interests that are trying to take over its agricultural system. Biotechnology giant Monsanto apparently has its sights set on bringing genetically-modified organisms (GMOs) to this sliver of a country just north of India, and it is allegedly working with the United States Agency for International Development (USAID), a so-called humanitarian group, and officials in Nepal to make it happen.

USAID issued a statement on Sept. 13, 2011, saying that it had partnered with Nepal's Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives (MoACs) and Monsanto to "promote hybrid maize (corn) seeds among 20,000 farmers of Chitwan, Nawalparasi and Kavre districts and provide training to them." Media across Nepal quickly picked up on the story, and massive public outcry ensued.

GMOs are not widely cultivated in Nepal, and the country has always taken a very cautious approach to adopting them. In fact, when it was discovered that some GMO ingredients had potentially already contaminated the nation's food supply back in 2003, government officials quickly made precautionary recommendations at the time to require GMO labeling on all food items.

But with multinational corporations and the US government working overtime to force GM corn on Nepali farmers, Nepal appears to be getting pushed to the brink of no return. Though Nepal still imports some of its corn from elsewhere, the country is having no problems with the conventional, organic, and heirloom varieties it currently cultivates, and has no need whatsoever for GM varieties.

Since the controversy erupted, Nepali officials have reportedly backed off from the plan. Hari Dahal, joint secretary at MoACs, told reporters recently that his agency had "no idea why USAID issued the statements saying that the Ministry of Agriculture and Cooperatives was partnering with Monsanto" because "no agreement had been signed."

USAID was a little more ambiguous about whether or not MoACs was specifically involved in the matter, but the agency did make it very clear that it is working with Monsanto to promote GMOs around the world, including in Nepal. And based on the way Monsanto continues to thrust GMOs on the people of India just to the south, there is no doubt that the biotech giant is doing the same thing to people of Nepal as we speak.

Banks find extra money to hire lobbyists in D.C.

Banks find extra money to hire lobbyists in D.C.

As Congress and U.S. agencies contemplate hundreds of rules, Wells Fargo helps the industry mobilize resources of persuasion.

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The money banks spend on lobbying is on pace to reach a record high again this year as the industry battles to weaken or repeal hundreds of rules being crafted by federal regulators.

Lobbying outlays by the five biggest spenders in the commercial banking sector increased 12 percent in the first three quarters of 2011 over the same period last year, an Observer analysis of federal lobbying disclosure records shows.

Wells Fargo in particular is turning into a major player in Washington. The San Francisco-based bank's spending on lobbying is up 80 percent in the first three quarters of the year, compared with the same period in 2010.

"If these firms and these organizations keep spending money at the rate they've been spending it, they will shoot through the ceiling again this year," said Michael Beckel, spokesman for the research group Center for Responsive Politics, which tracks federal lobbying.

At this time last year, the commercial banking industry had spent about $42 million on lobbying, the center's data show. So far this year, the figure stands at nearly $47 million.

Should this year's pace continue, 2011 will be the sixth straight year that commercial bank lobbying has set a record, according to the center.

A Wells Fargo spokeswoman said that while the bank is transparent with the figures it must disclose, it doesn't comment on lobbying strategy or philosophy.

What's driving banks' increased spending is a growing array of new federal regulations, mostly stemming from the Dodd-Frank financial reform law. Since it passed last year, federal agencies have been scrambling to write more than 300 new rules, from the cap on swipe fees merchants pay on debit transactions to the terms of a ban on proprietary trading known as the Volcker Rule.

"What you're seeing are dramatic shifts," said Marty Mosby, an analyst with financial services firm Guggenheim Securities. "It was a time to be out there explaining the story."

But consumer advocates decry the banking industry's influence on the legislative process.

"Most ordinary Americans don't have lobbyists that they're sending a paycheck to, but all of the major banks and financial institutions do," Beckel said.

One bank bucking the trend this year: Bank of America, which has decreased its spending on lobbying.

That's partially because of the companywide cost cutting initiative known as Project New BAC, said a spokeswoman for the Charlotte-based bank. The program aims to cut $5 billion in recurring expenses over the next few years.

Spokeswoman Shirley Norton said in a statement that spending fluctuates depending on which issues are at hand.

"We think we are deploying our resources prudently based on the volume and significance of the issues," she said.

Numerous issues

After the 2008 financial crisis that thrust the country into recession, Congress began to develop legislation to strengthen consumer protections and lessen the systemic risk of bank failure. The result was Dodd-Frank, which President Barack Obama signed in July 2010.

Even as agencies hammer out the details, the law has emerged as a hot topic on the campaign trail, with candidates for the Republican presidential nomination arguing the government overstepped its authority.

At the same time, U.S. and international regulators are drawing up new capital requirements for banks. Mortgage servicing issues have come to the forefront as banks battle legal proceedings.

And seizing on the anti-bank sentiment epitomized by the Occupy Wall Street movement, some Democratic lawmakers have introduced bills that would cap loan interest rates and mandate a standardized fee disclosure form.

That all leaves the banks anxious to be heard.

"They are trying to slow new regulations down, sometimes nip them in the bud before they are even floated as an idea," Beckel said. "There's a lot that these banks are interested in, and they want to make sure that they get as favorable treatment as possible."

Those lobbying for the banks included staffers from Washington lobbying firms, as well as government relations staff at the banks, who kept busy preparing for congressional hearings or talking with regulators while rules were being drafted.

'All hands on deck'

Much of the lobbying took place in the first half of the year as the Federal Reserve weighed the caps on swipe fees.

"Those guys were all hands on deck for months," a Senate banking aide told the Observer, declining to be named in order to speak candidly on the issue. He added that the cap's easily quantifiable impact made it a flashpoint.

While the banks themselves are hesitant to comment, industry analysts say the spending is vital to mitigate the heat of public discontent with major banks stemming from the financial crisis and government bailouts.

"You really have to go through and educate legislators," Mosby said. "There's just so much discussion and banter and misinformation going around, it helps for industry leaders to be involved in the process and be sure there's some kind of tie-back to what's really happening."

Opponents, however, see the lobbying as a calculated business decision.

"That lobbying and political spending is a large figure, but it's a small investment to protect half a billion dollars," said Bartlett Naylor, financial policy advocate for consumer group Public Citizen. His organization has reported spending $150,000 on lobbying so far this year.

"You would argue from a cold business standpoint that you would expect them to spend that kind of money."

He said the bank lobbyists have undue influence partly because the industry's issues are so complex that they don't generally get played out in the public arena.

Wells Fargo takes the lead

No major bank has increased its lobbying expenditures as much as Wells Fargo, which has spent nearly $6 million so far this year.

"Wells Fargo is one of those companies that has just skyrocketed in recent years," Beckel said.

Some of the increase is just playing catch-up with its peers.

Wells Fargo, which bought Charlotte-based Wachovia in 2008, is the fourth-largest bank by assets and the country's largest home lender. But as little as three years ago, the bank had five lobbyists working in Washington. This year, it has 28, according to Center for Responsive Politics data.

"As it has emerged into an industry leader, it became incumbent on them to take the mantle and do more of that industry leadership," Mosby said.

Consumer impact

Big banks' deeper pockets get them access to regulators more often than their opponents. Wall Street lobbyists have had more than 350 meetings with regulators about the Volcker Rule in the past year, while "progressive" groups in favor of a stricter rule have had only 20, Public Citizen's Naylor said.

"While the death grip of Wall Street might have relaxed enough for some reasonable legislation to pass through Congress in 2010, Main Street has to worry that that grip is retightening," Naylor said. "Those important reforms will be stifled, chilled, overturned, repealed."

But any desire to curtail becomes a freedom-of-speech issue, said Nancy Bush, a banking-industry analyst and contributing editor to SNL Financial.

"I'm like everybody else. I'm extremely torn by it," Bush said. "Lobbying is pervasive, not only for banks, but for any other company in American corporate culture. Should banks not lobby, and be left out?"

17 Quotes About The Coming Global Financial Collapse That Will Make Your Hair Stand Up

17 Quotes About The Coming Global Financial Collapse That Will Make Your Hair Stand Up

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Is the world on the verge of another massive global financial collapse? Yes. The western world is drowning in an ocean of debt unlike anything the world has ever seen before, and our financial markets are gigantic casinos that are dependent on huge mountains of risk and leverage remaining very stable. In the end, this house of cards that has been built on a foundation of sand is going to come crashing down in a horrifying manner. Usually in this column I go on and on about why things will soon get much worse. But today I am going to take a bit of a break. Today, I am going to let some of the top financial professionals in the world tell you why things will soon get much worse. Many of the quotes that you are about to read just might make the hair on the back of your neck stand up. Most people out there have no idea what is about to happen. Most people out there are working hard and are busy preparing for the holidays and they are hopeful that the economy will turn around soon. But that is not going to happen. We are heading for another major global financial collapse, and when it happens the U.S. economy is going to get even worse.

The epicenter for the coming global financial collapse is almost certainly going to be in Europe. As you will see below, financial professionals all over the world are sounding the alarm about Europe. It is a disaster that everyone can see coming but that nobody seems to be able to prevent.

Of course the failure of the "supercommittee" in the United States certainly is not helping matters. There is already talk that we may soon see another downgrade for U.S. debt. It is hard to even describe how incompetent the U.S. Congress is.

There is a tremendous lack of leadership both in the United States and in Europe right now. The financial world is more interconnected than ever before, and when the financial dominoes start to fall it is going to take a miracle to keep a complete and total disaster from unfolding.

So when the time comes, who is going to step forward and provide that leadership?

That is a really, really good question.

Right now, panic and fear are spreading like wildfire in the financial world and nobody knows for sure what is going to happen next.

But one thing is for certain. Pessimism is growing stronger by the day.

The following are 17 quotes about the coming global financial collapse that will make your hair stand up....

#1 Credit Suisse's Fixed Income Research unit: "We seem to have entered the last days of the euro as we currently know it. That doesn’t make a break-up very likely, but it does mean some extraordinary things will almost certainly need to happen – probably by mid-January – to prevent the progressive closure of all the euro zone sovereign bond markets, potentially accompanied by escalating runs on even the strongest banks."

#2 Willem Buiter, chief economist at Citigroup: "Time is running out fast. I think we have maybe a few months -- it could be weeks, it could be days -- before there is a material risk of a fundamentally unnecessary default by a country like Spain or Italy which would be a financial catastrophe dragging the European banking system and North America with it."

#3 Jim Reid of Deutsche Bank: "If you don't think Merkel's tone will change then our investment advice is to dig a hole in the ground and hide."

#4 David Rosenberg, a senior economist at Gluskin Sheff in Toronto: "Lenders are finding it difficult to finance their day-to-day operations with short-term funding. This is a lot like 2008 but with more twists."

#5 Christian Stracke, the head of credit research for Pimco: "This is just a repeat of what we saw in 2008, when everyone wanted to see toxic assets off the banks’ balance sheets"

#6 Paul Krugman of the New York Times: "At this point I’d guess soaring rates on Italian debt leading to a gigantic bank run, both because of solvency fears about Italian banks given a default and because of fear that Italy will end up leaving the euro. This then leads to emergency bank closing, and once that happens, a decision to drop the euro and install the new lira. Next stop, France."

#7 Paul Hickey of Bespoke Investment Group: "More and more, we are hearing anecdotal comments from individual and professionals that this is the most difficult environment they have ever experienced as the market is like a fish flopping around after being taken out of the water."

#8 Bob Janjuah of Nomura International: "Germany appears to be adamant that full political and fiscal integration over the next decade (nothing substantive will happen over the short term, in my view) is the only option, and ECB monetisation is no longer possible. I really think it is that clear and simple. And if I am wrong, and the ECB does a U-turn and agrees to unlimited monetisation, I will simply wait for the inevitable knee-jerk rally to fade before reloading my short risk positions. Even if Germany and the ECB somehow agree to unlimited monetisation I believe it will do nothing to fix the insolvency and lack of growth in the eurozone. It will just result in a major destruction of the ECB‟s balance sheet which will force an ECB recap. At that point, I think Germany and its northern partners would walk away. Markets always want short, sharp, simple solutions."

#9 Dan Akerson, CEO of General Motors: "The ’08 recession, which was a credit bubble that manifested itself through primarily the real estate market, that was a serious stress....This is much more serious."

#10 Francesco Garzarelli of Goldman Sachs: "Pressures on Euro area sovereign bond markets have progressively intensified and spread like a wildfire."

#11 Jim Rogers: "In 2002 it was bad, in 2008 it was worse and 2012 or 2013 is going to be worse still – be careful"

#12 Dr. Pippa Malmgren, the President and founder of Principalis Asset Management who once worked in the White House as an adviser to President Bush: "Market forces are increasingly determining what the options are and foreclosing on options policymakers thought they had. One option which is now under discussion involves permitting a country to temporarily leave the Euro, return to its native currency, devalue, commit to returning to the Euro at a better debt to GDP ratio, a better exchange rate and a better growth trajectory and yet not sacrifice its EU membership. I would like to say for the record that this is precisely the thought process that I expected to evolve,but when I proposed this possibility back in 2009, and again in September 2010, I had a 100% response from clients and others that this was “impossible” and many felt it was “ridiculous”. They may be right but this is the current state of the discussion. The Handelsblatt in Germany has reported this conversation, but wrongly assumes that the country that will exit is Germany. I think that Germany will have to exit if the Southern European states do not. Germany’s preference is to stay in the Euro and have the others drop out. The problem has been the Germans could not convince the others to walk away. But, now, market pressures are forcing someone to leave. Germany is pushing for that someone to be Italy. They hope that this would be a one off exception, not to be repeated by any other country. Obviously, though, if Italy leaves the Euro and reverts to Lira then the markets will immediately and forcefully attack Spain, Portugal and even whatever is left of the already savaged Greeks. These countries will not be able to compete against a devalued Greece or Italy when it come to tourism or even infrastructure. But, the principal target will be France. The three largest French banks have roughly 450 billion Euros of exposure to Italian debt. So, further sovereign defaults are certainly inevitable, but that is true under any scenario. Growth and austerity will not do the trick, as ZeroHedge rightly points out. Ultimately, I will not be at all surprised to see Europe’s banking system shut for days while the losses and payments issues are worked out. People forget that the term “bank holiday” was invented in the 1930’s when the banks were shut for exactly the same reason."

#13 Daniel Clifton, a policy strategist with Strategas Research Partners on the potential for more downgrades of U.S. debt: "We would expect further downgrades, a first downgrade from Moody’s and Fitch and possibly a second downgrade from S&P."

#14 Warren Buffett on the problems in the eurozone: "The system as presently designed has revealed a major flaw. And that flaw won’t be corrected just by words. Europe will either have to come closer together or there will have to be some other rearrangement because this system is not working"

#15 David Kostin, equity strategist for Goldman Sachs: "The wide range of possible outcomes on both the super committee process and the unstable political economy in Europe drives our view that investors should assume the worst while hoping for the best."

#16 Mark Mobius, the head of the emerging markets desk at Templeton Asset Management: "There is definitely going to be another financial crisis around the corner"

#17 Gerald Celente, founder of The Trends Research Institute: "The whole system is going down. Pull your money out your Fidelity account, your Scwhab accout, and your ETFs."

Are you starting to get the picture?

When so many top financial professionals are freaking out like this, perhaps the rest of us should start paying attention.

They are telling us that "time is running out".

They are telling us that "there is definitely going to be another financial crisis".

They are telling us that this "is going to be worse" than 2008.

They are telling us that "the whole system is going down".

Yes, a devastating financial collapse really is coming. Just like in 2008, it will seem like the "end of the world" while it is happening, but it won't be. It will severely damage our financial system and our economy, but it will not finish us off.

Think of it this way. When you build a sand castle at the beach, it doesn't get totally wiped out by the first wave or the second wave that hits it. Each wave does significant damage, but the destruction of your sand castle is a process.

It is the same thing with the U.S. economy. We once had the most incredible economic machine that the world has ever seen. It is constantly being gutted and the financial crisis of 2008 hit us really hard, but we are still doing okay.

After this next financial crisis we will be in even worse shape. But we will still be breathing.

More "waves" will come after this next financial crisis. If we continue on the road that we are on, our economy will progressively get worse and worse.

Not everyone will agree with this analysis, and that is okay. In the end, time will reveal the truth to all of us.

Right now, we all need to get ready for the next wave that is about to hit us. A lot of people are going to lose their jobs over the next few years. Hopefully you are prepared for that.

Voices of the Occupations: 5 New Media Sources Fighting Against Censorship and For OWS

Voices of the Occupations: 5 New Media Sources Fighting Against Censorship and For OWS

"The intent of this participation is to provide independent, reliable, accurate, wide-ranging and relevant information that a democracy requires." --Chris Willis and Shayne Bowman, We Media: How Audiences Are Shaping The Future Of News and Information (2003)

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Given the scenes in the video below, is it any wonder the Protect IP Act was brought to Congress this week?

PIPA, which was taken to the Senate, and its House of Representatives counterpart, the Stop Online Piracy Act, were ostensibly introduced to protect copyright holders in the television, movie and music industries. But as Christina Gagnier explained in the Huffington Post, these two bills are “the stuff of legal nightmares”:

We end up with cases parsing what "infringing activities" means. We end up with panicked clients, individuals and companies, contacting attorneys after their websites are affected by such pieces of legislation, normally people who intended no ill-will, malice or "infringing activities" per se. We end up with a handful of cases that will climb the appellate ranks and one that perhaps will see its day in the Supreme Court. Essentially, we end up waiting for lawyers and the courts to clean up the mess.

Think Gagnier’s analysis through a little further and it’s not hard to imagine, say, the University of California-Davis going to court to shut down video showing how its campus police treats seated protesters. Or authorities in Oakland cracking down on sites like Livestream and UStream every time somebody captures a police action, or the Bloomberg administration in NYC blocking videos like the one above by filmmaker Casey Neistat, using the “infringing activities” clause.

With the Occupy Wall Street movement at the two-month mark, and the stories in and around it growing alongside the movement, social media hasn’t just become an organizational tool for protesters. It’s become the means for a new group of storytellers to relay the views from the front line more directly – some would say, more honestly – than traditional newsrooms. And if the acts of press suppression in New York November 14 are any indication, the audience for this new batch of media outlets is only about to grow. Here are five new voices of the occupations that you should be watching.

1. @OakFoSho, Occupy Oakland

Outside of the original OWS protests in New York City, Oakland has garnered the most national attention, thanks in no small part to the actions of the city’s police department. More than 5,000 people watched the OPD raid the occupation after its November 2 general strike, via Oakland resident Spencer Mills’ Motorola smartphone.

“It was intense,” Mills told the San Jose Mercury News. “I was just standing there with a camera.”

Over the course of that evening, Mills not only followed the police movements (noting how many outside agencies the city of Oakland brought in to arrest protesters), but interviewed occupiers to get their reasons for participating, hours after local newscasts left the scene. In a testament to the real-time effectiveness of his broadcast, when Mills told the audience he needed new batteries for his phone, various viewers showed up to help keep his signal going. He’s been a broadcasting fixture ever since, including another early-morning raid by police late Sunday night – which was simulcast at one point by Al-Jazeera English, prompting the unofficial nickname, “Oakland’s own Edison Carter.” In a sign of the times, Mills was even invited to take part in an Oakland Tribune panel discussion on coverage of the occupation.

2. The Other 99, Occupy Wall Street

This site began as a newsgathering resource from Zuccotti Park, and runs on donations, but it’s already blossomed to include various platforms, including a newsletter and videos from other occupations.

But it’s garnered the most attention for its live streams from the park, where the site’s media director, Tim Pool, has been active since the beginning of the movement. According to MSNBC, Pool’s coverage of the November 15 police action against OWS drew 20,000 viewers over the course of nearly 16 straight hours.

3. @Blogdiva, Occupy Wall Street

Though she’s based out of NYC, blogger Liza Sabater has used her already sizable following on Twitter (more than 19,000 and counting) to act as a one-woman RSS feed for occupations nationwide, posting information and commentary touching on not just the scene in New York, but all over the country.

Sabater has also used her feed to keep readers up to date on the ongoing protests in Egypt, showing the ever-evolving parallels between the Arab Spring and OWS, all in real-time.

4. Occupystream.com

The site, set up by an OWS sympathizer on his own time, is precisely the kind of outlet PIPA and SOPA might hit hardest. It acts as a one-stop shop for viewers following multiple protests; users provide links to streams following occupation efforts both in the U.S. and abroad.

“I've been waiting for an opportunity to help in the first movements of revolution, but I didn't know how,” wrote the site’s founder, Keith Jimenez. “This site will hopefully connect everyone on possibly ... the planet.” So far, it seems to be working. As of this weekend Jimenez has had to upgrade the site’s servers to handle the incoming traffic.

5. @Jasiri-X, Occupy Pittsburgh

Earlier this year, this Pittsburgh-based rapper weighed in on the Troy Davis case, one of the few musical artists who spoke out against Davis’ execution. More recently, Jasiri was the first artist to publicly express his support for OWS, on the track “Occupy (We the 99)”

Jasiri’s outspokenness led to an awkward encounter at the University of Connecticut, where he agreed to take part in a “Political Awareness Rally,” only to be told he couldn’t do “Occupy.” Eventually, he was told he could perform the song, but would forfeit his appearance fee by doing so. He did the song anyway. But, as an artist who has built himself up in part through his reach via online media (and who has established a program helping young black men do the same), he might also have cause for care if the new bills go through.

As of this week, SOPA has encountered resistance within Congress with both House Minority Leader Nancy Pelosi, D-Calif., and Rep. Darrel Issa, R-Calif., speaking out against it. But it’s likely that, even if this act and PIPA are shot down, they will be the last of their kind. Especially if a reinvigorated OWS continues to grow. Because every YouTube clip, every Twitpic, every “official account” shot down, every act of press suppression, both by police and by media outlets themselves, makes it as clear in the U.S. as it was in the Middle East: the revolution doesn’t have to be televised anymore.

Ron Paul: Flawed Policies Helped Lead to 9/11

Ron Paul: Flawed policies helped lead to 9/11

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Republican presidential candidate Ron Paul said Sunday he thinks flawed U.S. foreign policy "contributed to" the causes that led to the September 11 terrorist attacks, though he stopped short of saying the attacks were America's "fault."

Paul, appearing on CBS' "Face the Nation," said there was a "connection" between U.S. policies and the 9/11 attacks, and that "policies have an effect."

But, he emphasized, "that's a far cry from blaming America."

"I think there's an influence," Paul, a staunch Libertarian, told CBS' Bob Schieffer. "That's exactly what, you know, the 9/11 Commission said. That's what the DOD has said... That's what a lot of researchers have said. Just remember, immediately after 9/11, we removed the base from Saudi Arabia. So there is a connection."

The longtime Texas congressman, whose popularity has recently seen an uptick in the GOP presidential polls, suggested that American military presence abroad fostered anti-American sentiment - which in turn led to actions against the American people.

"You talk to the people who committed it and those individuals who would like to do us harm, they say, 'Yes, we don't like American bombs to be falling on our country. We don't like the intervention that we do in their nations.' So to deny this, I think, is very dangerous - but to argue the case that they want to do us harm because we're free and prosperous, I think, is a very, very dangerous notion because it's not true."

When asked if he was saying "it was our fault" that 9/11 happened, Paul said, no. "That's a misconstruing of what I'm saying," he replied.

"America is you and I," Paul told Schieffer. "We didn't cause it. The average American didn't cause it. [But] if you have a flawed policy, it may influence it.

"I'm saying the policy-makers' fault contributed to it," he added.

Paul, who has long been vocal in his opposition to sending American troops abroad, argued that America should use diplomacy - not the military - to deal with countries like Iran.

He also decried sanctions as "the initial step to war."

"We have 12,000 diplomats. I'm suggesting that maybe we ought to use some of them," Paul said. "I think the greatest danger now is for us to overreact. This is what I'm fearful of. Iran doesn't have a bomb. There's no proof. There's no new information, regardless of this recent report. For us to overreact and talk about bombing Iran, that's much more dangerous."

The candidate said he doesn't think there is any place in the world where it "helps" the United States to have forces stationed - not only because "we can't afford it," but also because, he said, "I believe we can defend ourselves with submarines and all our troops back at home.

"I think a submarine is a very worthwhile weapon," Paul said. "I believe we can defend ourselves with submarines and [station] all our troops back at home. This whole idea that we have to be in 130 countries and 900 bases - now they've just invented a weapon that can hit any spot in the world in one hour. I mean, what's this idea? This is old-fashioned idea that you have to keep troops on 900 bases around the world. Makes no sense at all. Besides, we're bankrupt. We can't afford it any longer."

The famously outspoken congressman added that he'd bring home troops even from Japan and South Korea. "Absolutely. And the people are with me on that. Because we can't afford it. It would save us a lot of money. All those troops would spend their money here at home," he said.

Besides, he added, "Those troops overseas aggravate our enemies, motivate our enemies. I think it's a danger to our national defense. We can save a lot of money cutting out the military expenditures that contribute nothing to our defense."

US Census figures show jump in child poverty

US Census figures show jump in child poverty

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Figures released by the US Census Bureau indicate an official child poverty rate of 21.6 percent, the highest since the specific surveys of child poverty began in 2001.

The report comes from the American Community Survey, a nationwide study that includes an annual sample size of about 3 million addresses across the United States, including every county in every state as well as Puerto Rico, where it is called the Puerto Rico Community Survey.

The highlights of the latest survey, for the year 2010, show that 15.75 million children lived in poverty, and that more than 1.1 million children had been added to the total between 2009 and 2010.

Black children, as has been the case historically, had the highest poverty rate, at 38.2 percent. Poverty among Hispanic children was 32.3 percent.

The number and percentage of children in poverty increased in 27 of the 50 states during this period, and no state saw the number or percent of children in poverty decrease. Ten states had child poverty rates of 25 percent or higher, with the highest rates reported in Mississippi (32.5 percent), the District of Columbia (30.4 percent) and New Mexico (30.0 percent).

The child poverty rate has trended upward in the past 10 years. After falling slightly in the years 2006-2008, it has shot up following the 2008 financial collapse, rising 1.8 percentage points between 2008 and 2009 and then another 1.6 in the following year. It is now more than 20 percent for the first time since the surveys began.

About one out of every three children in poverty lived in the four most populous states of the country—California, Texas, Florida and New York. In these states, hard hit by the financial crash and the ongoing deindustrialization, a total of 5.6 million children are in this category. As the official survey admits, “Children who live in poverty, especially young children, are more likely than their peers to have cognitive and behavioral difficulties, to complete fewer years of education, and, as they grow up, to experience more years of unemployment.”

The official poverty rate among children is, according to the Census, determined by comparing annual income to a set of threshold dollar values that vary by family size, number of children and age of householder. If the given family’s income is less than that threshold value, the individuals in it are considered below the poverty level. The thresholds are based on a cost of living that is calculated using the Consumer Price Index, which is very widely considered to understate the actual expenses for families, including housing, health care and other needs. Food costs, which have historically been stable and in some cases trailed the overall rate of inflation, have jumped drastically for many necessities in the last several years.

The latest ACS survey of child poverty follows other recent data released by the Census Bureau, including a revised measure showing a 16.1 percent national poverty rate, compared to a rate of 15.2 percent. The Census reported 49.1 million in poverty, but also acknowledged that nearly double that figure, 98 million, or almost one third of the US population, is either poor or just above the poverty level.

During the Great Depression of the 1930s, President Franklin Roosevelt, seeking to save the capitalist system, declared in his second inaugural address, in January 1937, “I see one-third of a nation ill-housed, ill-clothed and ill-nourished.” This famous phrase, associated with the heyday of American liberalism, was delivered literally in the midst of the famous Flint sit-down strike, in the midst of a period of mass struggles and union organization.

Today, as the census figures attest, it would be no exaggeration to say that nearly one third of the nation struggles with many of the same issues as those of 75 years ago. But the current Democratic occupant of the White House, presiding over crisis-ridden and declining American capitalism, is completely silent on fighting poverty. Instead, the White House and congressional Democrats are engaged in behind-the-scenes negotiations with the Republican leadership to decide how many additional cuts will be made in programs like food stamps, unemployment benefits, Medicare, Medicaid and other life-and-death necessities for the working class, retirees and the poor.

The current stalemate on the so-called supercommittee of Congress revolves around how much to cut from these programs. Not a single voice has been raised among the big business politicians for a genuine war on poverty and homelessness. Instead, they argue over whether the savage cuts are to be “balanced” by some token tax increases on the wealthy. This shows in the clearest possible fashion that the task of fighting poverty can only be taken forward through the independent political struggle of the working class, in a bitter fight against the Democratic Party and all of the institutions of big business.

Five Ways that Financial Elites are Destroying Democracy

Five Ways that Financial Elites are Destroying Democracy

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Is democracy compatible with a financial system run by billionaires? Maybe not. Here are five ways that high finance is undermining democracy:

1. Billionaires replace one person, one vote.

Ask any American what’s wrong with our country and they will say that money rules politics. And they are correct. It’s obvious that major political donors and lobbyists for the super-rich have more political influence than we do. As the top 1 percent gains more and more of the nation’s income, the 99 percent effectively become disenfranchised. And of course, the Citizens United Supreme Court decision makes it even easier for the rich to buy political power. Lopsided campaign contributions by and for the super-rich are making a mockery out of elections. In 2010, for example, business outspent labor by a factor of 14 to 1.

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2. The stock market exercises an instant veto.

Virtually every economic decision in our democracy is now subject to an instant stock market veto. The first question asked by the White House and Congress before making a policy decision is “How will the markets react?” When the House of Representatives rejected the first TARP bailout bill on Sept. 29, 2008, the stock market fell by a record 777 points. After it passed, the markets were “calmed.”

Now, the New York Times reports that if the deficit “supercommittee” doesn’t get its act together by its Thanksgiving deadline, markets won’t like it:

    Some fear that such a failure could lead to the kind of stock market slide and loss of investor confidence that accompanied stalled efforts to raise the federal debt limit earlier this year.

Just who comprises “investor confidence?” Who makes financial markets dive in a matter of moments? Well, it’s certainly not those of us who piddle around with our 401ks in E-trade accounts. It’s not our slow-moving pension funds either. Rather, it’s the proprietary trading desks of big banks and the giant pools of unregulated cash in hedge funds. These big-time players have a very keen sense of their own self-interests. They have made it perfectly clear to the supercommittee that they want massive debt reduction so that 1) their bonds and bets will stay valuable; and 2) they won’t have to pay higher taxes on their outrageous incomes and profits.

Because of the skewed distribution of income, these money manipulations have enormous impacts on markets and therefore also on our 401ks. When they drive the markets down, we feel it as well. They’re holding us hostage and counting on us to suffer from financial Stockholm Syndrome – that we’ll side with our financial captors. Financial elites know we are likely to urge our politicians to avoid any moves that might drive markets down.

3. Governments are not permitted to create full employment economies.

The Wall Street casino crash killed 8 million jobs in a matter of months. It will now take more than 20 million jobs to get us back to full-employment (defined as an unemployment rate of 5 percent or lower.) At the current rate of recovery, it will take nearly a generation to get there. This is intolerable.

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Why aren’t the jobs there? Unless you’ve been blinded by ideology, it’s obvious that the Wall Street crash killed effective demand in the economy. Without that demand, business won’t hire and invest. It’s not rocket science. With unemployment so high, consumers don’t have the economic muscle to generate that demand. The obvious answer is for the government to step in to put our people back to work. The government needs to spend money – even if it has to go deeper into debt – to hire more public sector workers and to spend money on labor intensive programs like weatherization, higher education, infrastructure rebuilding and the like. We need a massive set of programs to create full-employment – which is supposed to be the key goal of our economy.

So why aren’t we doing it? It’s not just the Republicans who stand in the way. Behind them are a phalanx of financial elites who are putting forth an outright lie – that jobs will come from less government spending and fewer regulations. They claim – and with a straight face no less – that freeing them from regulations will create more business confidence, more investment, and therefore more jobs. They refuse to admit that deregulation led to the crash in the first place. Rather, they are flooding the airways with pious statements of concern about the how the government must clear up its debt by cutting all levels of government. They never explain how this is supposed to create jobs. They can’t. That’s because you can’t create jobs by cutting jobs.

Our bankers are shrewd. They see a stalled economy due to lack of stimulus, so they call for even less stimulus. Why? Because, it’s a perfect way to change the conversation from taxes on the super-rich to pay for job creation to cutting the big, bad government. Some even have the nerve to call for “tax reform” to further lower taxes on the super-rich and large corporations.

What would happen if a government really pressed for full employment? Stock market manipulators will start a stampede to drive down the markets. Politicians will run scared and you’ll stay unemployed.

4. Hedge fund speculative raids replace elected leaders with technocrats.

Just take a look at Greece and Italy. In both cases, financial markets -- not the country’s citizens -- are determining who will run the country and what those leaders will do. To placate financial markets and increase “investor confidence” both countries have replaced their leaders with economic technocrats who supposedly will rise above politics and get the country’s finances in order.

But why is this happening now? Because those countries are being attacked by large hedge funds that are trying as hard as they can to create financial runs and profit from them. It’s called a speculative attack. Here’s how it works. Basically, these hedge funds try to start a stampede of selling to drive down the value of bonds of a given country. (When bond values decline, their interest rates go up.) They do this by finding a myriad of ways to bet against those bonds. They can sell bonds they own. They can sell bonds that others own, (shorting). They can buy default insurance to bet against the bonds. And they create many toxic combinations of the above using massive amounts of borrowed money to amplify their negative bets.

If they do it right, all that selling drives down the price of the bonds, and that in turn scares other large investors from mutual funds and banks into selling their bonds as well, thereby further driving down the price. The more the price falls the more the hedge funds earn. And we’re talking a about “earning” tens of billions from this kind of stampede.

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Meanwhile, the country involved sees the interest rates it must pay on new debt go up and up. At some point, that percentage hits a magic level – like 7 percent – which means they can’t possibly pay back all of their debt. These high interest rates then cause an every larger stampede as bond holders rush to sell their bonds before they default (or as in the case of Greece before they “voluntarily” agree to a 50 percent cut in value – a “haircut.”)

(In case you have any doubt about the raids, look at the chart above. The jump in interest rates didn’t come about because of new developments in Italy. The jumps were caused by the hedge fund raids.)

If the hedge fund elites are really lucky, the stampede they induce can turn into what the press calls “contagion” -- the spread of the crisis to another country. This happens because many of the Greek and Italian bonds are held by big banks in countries like France. So if Italy is in danger of default, then so are the banks in France, which means that France will have to bail out its banks, which means that France’s bonds will look weaker and its interest rates will rise, leading to a new speculative hedge fund raid on French bonds. And so it goes with each new crisis leading to more profits for the hedge funds that ignite the stampedes

To stop these hedge fund attacks, countries are given only one choice – do whatever high finance says. And what high finance wants is very simple – slash and burn all of your social programs so that you can pay back your loans – you borrowed from us and now you have to pay us back even if it means impoverishing your people. To get that done, financial elites want “regular” politicians replaced by technocrats as just happened in Italy and Greece. But most of all they want to see those cuts.

5. Financial markets are vetoing Social Security.

Perhaps the most popular democratic program in American history is Social Security. Everyone pays in and everyone gets a defined benefit pension from it –rich and poor alike. Republicans have been trying to dismantle it for at least a generation, but the American public has expressed its democratic will in full support of the program again and again.

But financial elites also have Social Security in the cross-hairs. They tell us we can no longer afford it. It’s too generous. We live too long and we are getting too many payments. It’s going to bankrupt the country.

Why can’t we afford it? Because we ran up enormous debts to save the economy from the Wall Street-induced crash. Because, we cap rates at $105,000 of income instead of having the rich pay more. Because, the super elites are paying lower and lower tax rates in general.

No matter. The financial elites have the ear of both parties so that even President Obama, supposedly a liberal Democrat, has done what no Democrat has ever done – he put Social Security on the table to get a grand deficit reduction bargain.

But here’s the grand bargain that Wall Street really wants, and they plan to get it no matter whom we vote for. To “save” Social Security we will be pushed toward private investment accounts – Wall Street’s wet dream. Imagine the entire country paying fat fees to Wall Street to invest our Social Security money. We will be told we can only save Social Security if it ceases to be a defined benefit plan. We’ll be sold the wonders of investing the money ourselves – of course with the help of our trusted investment advisers from every bailed-out bank in the country.

Will financial elites replace democracy?

It’s happened before. When New York City almost defaulted in 1975, the Emergency Financial Control Board was established to take financial authority away from politicians. Imagine what might happen if Washington continues on its path to permanent gridlock and if the American people totally give up on their elected representatives. Imagine if the US debt gets downgraded by our whorish Wall Street rating agencies. Imagine if unemployment rises even higher and riots break out in the streets. Wouldn’t it be possible for the congressional supercommittee to turn into the Super-Emergency Control Board run by kindly investors and corporate leaders like maybe a Warren Buffet? Doesn’t having a benign financial emperor sound like a more “practical” alterative to a dysfunctional democratic system?

We’re not there yet but we’re headed that way…unless we dramatically curtail the power and wealth of our financial elites.

The threat to democracy isn’t new to America. President Andrew Jackson identified the threat that elite bankers posed to our fledging democracy when he vetoed the National Bank in 1832. Here’s a small excerpt from his veto message:

    It is to be regretted that the rich and powerful too often bend the acts of government to their selfish purposes. ….In the full enjoyment of the gifts of Heaven and the fruits of superior industry, economy, and virtue, every man is equally entitled to protection by law; but when the laws undertake to add to these natural and just advantages artificial distinctions, to grant titles, gratuities, and exclusive privileges, to make the rich richer and the potent more powerful, the humble members of society -- the farmers, mechanics, and laborers -- who have neither the time nor the means of securing like favors to themselves, have a right to complain of the injustice of their Government.

OWS: To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves

OWS: To Change the Country, We Just Might Have to Change Ourselves

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The emergence of what we know as Occupy Wall Street, or the 99 Percent Movement, has taken nearly everyone by surprise, producing a transformation of public consciousness. There is little doubt that something striking has taken place, far from our normal range of expectations. As a result, many thousands of progressives, excited that the logjam in American politics has been psychologically broken up, are still wondering exactly what has happened and why. Suddenly the style and conventional wisdom of traditional progressive models for social change have been pushed aside in favor of "horizontalism," general assemblies, culture jamming, and many other unconventional ways of doing politics.

The Antecedents of OWS

The DNA strands of some of these alternative approaches can be traced to Europe's Situationist International movement of the '50s and '60s, which combined radical politics with avant-garde art, and helped lead to a general strike in France in 1968. There are echoes, too, of American progressive movements that rose in response to the inequality, corporate excesses and corruption of the Gilded Age and the Roaring '20s. There are also reverberations from early in the labor movement of the large-scale industrial strikes of the 1930s, and also of the civil rights movement, and the women's movement's model of consciousness raising. Powerful acknowledgement must be given to the Arab Spring, for igniting the world's imagination. In Egypt, power that seemed incontestable was contested; protesters didn't have the answers beyond the end of Mubarak -- still they came and stayed.

Strong antecedents can also be found in the student-led antiwar movement of the late 1960s, which was also a fight against the dehumanizing effects of corporate power. Then, many young men faced being drafted to fight in a destructive and despised war. These young people and their families pushed back, saying, "Hell no, we won't go!" Many of today's millennials are also fighting back against circumstances that affect them directly. Student debt is more than $1 trillion, while unemployment for young people is at Depression-era levels. Declaring bankruptcy does not erase student loans; those crushing debts will follow them forever. Many of these young adults see their futures at stake. Not surprisingly, they want a solution -- either the jobs that would enable them to pay off their loans, or forgiveness of debt incurred under false pretenses.

Nevertheless, the movement that has burst out of a small park in Lower Manhattan feels like a new manifestation of the will for ordinary people to challenge dangerous and daunting forces that have come to dominate their lives. With its global reach and advanced technological and media tools, OWS may well usher in a new political and cultural era. Still, no one can say just where this thing will go and what the future will bring. And therein lies much of the power of OWS, and for some, the frustration. Pundits and organizers across the ideological spectrum have tried to understand the phenomenon, and explain it by fitting it into what we already know about how the system works, because not knowing is a source of great anxiety in our society, in the media, in the establishment, and even among progressives.

As Eve Ensler, global activist and author of The Vagina Monologues says, "What is happening cannot be defined. It is happening. It is a spontaneous uprising that has been building for years in our collective unconscious. It is a gorgeous, mischievous moment that has arrived and is spreading. It is a speaking out, coming out, dancing out. It is an experiment and a disruption."

Of course, nothing concrete has changed, yet. But the possibility of change -- really, the necessity of change -- is now in the middle of our nation's politics and public discourse. This alone is an incredible achievement because a few short months ago, many millions of us essentially had no hope.

Why Has the Tried-and-True Failed Us, and OWS Succeeded?

We may well ask why so much progressive organizing and billions of dollars of investments in social change over the past 20 to 30 years has failed to slow down the right-wing, corporate-dominated juggernaut or catch the public's imagination. And how is it that, remarkably, what is succeeding in front of our eyes breaks what we thought were the hard and fast rules of political relevance? We had come to believe we needed the development of charismatic leaders operating within vertical organizational models, with heavy emphasis on fundraising and electoral politics. But that is changing. Reality is undergoing an adjustment.

Micah Sifry, writing on the Web site Tech President, wondered, "Did OWS succeed simply because it was non-hierarchical in method, had smart framing in tune with public anger about the economy and Wall Street, and made really effective use of social media?" If so, he asked, "Why didn't a very similar effort, called 'the Other 98 Percent' take off last year? Why didn't the US Uncut movement, a spinoff of an ongoing street protest movement in England, take off here this past winter? Why didn't Van Jones' new Rebuild the Dream movement, which was launched this summer with the backing of MoveOn, labor and the progressive netroots, take off?"

Longtime organizer Andrew Boyd described a few key elements to Sifry. One is the powerful tactic of occupation itself, with the personal commitment and determination of people on the ground to see it through. "Continuous occupation creates a human drama" and a demonstration of dedication that matters. "People await the next episode. Will the cops kick them out? Will they outlast the weather? Will they participate in the elections?" Another reason is the lack of demands. As Boyd says, it puts OWS in the morally potent "right vs wrong box," instead of in the "political calculation" box.

Still another is the authenticity of OWS. As Sifry notes,

"Occupy Wall Street isn't slick. It isn't focus-grouped. It isn't something professional activists would do…As the authors of the Cluetrain Manifesto wrote more than a decade ago, we instinctively know the difference between a human voice and a corporate voice. I know it may sound strange to say this, but could the reason so many progressive social change projects fail to connect with ordinary people and move them to action be because they seem too corporate in style? Think of all those hand-scrawled signs on scraps of cardboard vs. a thousand professionally printed signs from a union shop--which is more authentic?"

But there is something simultaneously much harder to grasp and incredibly easy to digest if one is able to suspend disbelief, to stop thinking in all the ways we have been taught and trained to respond in American politics. And get ready for a wild ride.

A Generational Shift

Even though OWS involves people of a wide range of ages, there has been a fundamental generational shift. Millennials have a different view of how to do things, with values and knowledge gained from leaders across the world. They have absorbed quite naturally the fundamental approach of horizontalism -- perhaps better labeled participatory democracy -- field-tested in places like Argentina, Spain and Greece.

As Marina Sitrin, a veteran of political organizing in Argentina 10 years ago and an early OWS participant explains:

"2011 has been a year of revolutions -- uprisings -- and massive social movements -- all against an economic crisis and crisis of representation. Most all of these new movements have taken directly democratic forms, and are doing so in public spaces, from Tahrir Square in Egypt, to the plazas and parks of Spain, Greece, and increasingly the United States. The words horizontal, horizontalidad and horizontalism are being used to describe the form the movements are taking. Horizontal, as it sounds, is a level space for decision making, a place where one can look directly at the other person across from you….Horizontalism is more than just being against hierarchy...it is about creating something new together in our relationships. The means are a part of the ends. The forms of organizing manifest what we desire; it is not a question of demands, but rather a manifestation of an alternative way of being and relating."

On a practical level, what this means is that Gen Xers and Boomers have much to learn from the different approaches to politics OWS represents. Instead of focusing on traditional power structures, the OWS operation seems like the "wisdom of crowds" combined with a fundamental sense that top-down power can't really ever change anything, because it will always, by its nature, reproduce the system it is trying to change.

For decades, we progressive Boomers (I am one) and Gen Xers have continued doing things the way we always have, believing that if we only organized a little better, raised more money, were a little smarter, tweaked the message just so, success would be ours. But we could not discover how to make a dent in the political hegemony of banks and corporations, in the political corruption, in unjust laws that protect the powerful. Life in the social and economic realms has declined over the past decades -- for the working class, poor people, people of color, students, and increasingly the middle class. Meanwhile, more and more corporate money is invested to game the system. The Supreme Court's decision in Citizens United was the last nail in the coffin, giving yet more influence over our "democracy" to the 1 percent.

OWS represents a challenge to many established orders. It challenges a large professional class of highly educated progressives who learned to work the funding system and to create a broad, comfortable and self-reinforcing progressive establishment. While millions suffer with joblessness, underwater mortgages and student debt, many in the progressive establishment are well-paid and thriving, fighting a battle on many fronts that it seems we are doomed to continue to lose. Why? Perhaps it is because our system and way of doing things mirrors the oppressive system in many ways. There is nothing revolutionary about movement professionals trying to negotiate with the Obama administration to tweak one policy or another. Or spending time convincing Americans to sign another petition or offer financial support -- things I personally promote, so I do not write this from a place of any superiority, nor do I have an immediate clear idea of how to change it, except that we must try.

Building on What We Have Done

Our old ways of doing things are going to be challenged and questioned every day. We have to be bold enough to resist running for establishment cover and use this teachable moment to take a hard look at what we have wrought. If we believe in our values, we have to adapt and change. At the same time, and this is crucial, we have to take stock of what we have built, which is significant. There are infrastructures in place that will help the OWS movement go forward. We must be creative and gutsy in imagining how to weave together the new with old, and not throw the baby out with the bathwater. We Boomers must remember that our early efforts of crossing many dividing lines -- of race, gender, class and sexual orientation -- provide the historical backbone of what the OWS movement is building on, 40 years later. It just may be that this generation is doing a better job than we did.

Moving forward, we have to distribute resources more broadly. We must bring people into productive roles who have been left out. None of this will be easy. But it could be amazing, and even more importantly, essential. Because if we are going to catch this tidal wave, if we are going to contribute to this huge fight against unbridled global capitalism, we must accept the anxiety and uncertainty of doing things differently. And many of us will. Already, many of us do sense that this is the best chance we will have in our lifetimes to reinvigorate our democracy, create a livable world for ourselves and future generations, and help millions, young and old, pull themselves from the grinding everyday pain of poverty and powerlessness.

We Are the Change

Joining the change will require reassessing both our habits and our organizations. And a fair question is, just what does that mean? I don't pretend to have the answers. But there are places to start. We can examine our privileges, share power, insist that resources be spread much further than they are now. We can think about relating better to all, not just to those in our political and social circles. As a daily practice, we can better value the people on whose work we depend, those who collect our garbage, deliver our food, clean our offices, do our laundry. And for the future of the earth -- we can challenge and change some of our greedy habits and remind ourselves of how easy it is to abuse the environment when we are privileged.

Many of us have been toiling for years, struggling for social change, for inspirational and accurate media coverage, for fairness and equality. We have been doing it the way we thought was right, and we should give ourselves credit for persistence, for not giving up. But we do find ourselves at a crossroads. Embracing the new has risks, and feels confusing, perhaps even threatening.

Eve Ensler has a way of artfully articulating the elements of key moments. She writes:

"If we are not afraid, if we open ourselves, we all know everything has to change. We need places to announce and actualize this change. Places are crucial. The ingredients involve stepping out of your comfort zone, giving up more than your share, telling your story and listening to others, not thinking in an obvious linear way, trusting the collective imagination to be more empowered and visionary than your own, refusing to participate in the violent destruction of anything. That includes taking anything that isn't yours, taking more than you need, and believing you have a right to dismiss or ignore or belittle anyone with less power or money or education. Believers...will be beaten with batons and pepper sprayed and dragged off. But no one can evict or silence what is emerging in Zuccotti Park."

Or what is emerging from the thousands of sister and brother occupations in the U.S. and across the globe.

It's clear. The movement that is OWS can't do it alone. They, and millions of us, need to be willing to step up, and change ourselves and change the world in the process.